A Call To All Parents: Teach Your Kids About Diversity

Hey, you. Yes you. The parent who is turning your head away from the situation that our kids find themselves in, the one where your kid is telling my kid he has a "funny face", and you are too shocked and nervous to do anything about it. You would rather pretend it didn't happen. And maybe you got into your car, and you said a few things about being nice to other kids, and how some kids look "different" and we need to be nice to them anyways. Or maybe it was easier for you to just pretend that it didn't happen. Or maybe you don't really care at all. 

But it did happen. My kid went home feeling like he had little worth because your kid thought making fun of him was a fun game. Did you notice how he hid from your child after that happened? How he hid in the corner and sat for a long time alone, and needed the encouragement to continue to play around your child. 

Hey, you. Yes you. The mom who watched as your children pretended my child was a "monster" and invented their own game running away from him. It seemed like a lot of fun for them. I know deep down you knew your kids shouldn't be doing this, but I suppose your defense mechanism was to laugh it off and pretend it was "cute" behavior. Maybe you were a bit shocked to see your kiddos doing this because 9 times out of 10 they are sweet as pie? Well kids, like all people, aren't perfect. They need help learning right from wrong. It would have been really nice if you had of intervened and stopped them from playing this game rather than smiling it off. This would have been an excellent time for you to teach your kids about diversity and the value of individuals with special needs. But you wasted that moment. You will find another, and hopefully you step up to the plate. 

That night I had to tell my child in the best way that I could that he was not a monster. That he was a wonderful, loving person who deserved to be surrounded by all sorts of people who saw his worth. 

Hey, you. Yes you. The parent who has never talked about special needs with your kids because it just has never been something you thought you needed to talk about, or maybe you think it is the job of the teachers, or you have decided you will cross that bridge if it comes (it will, many times). Or maybe you have had one or two casual conversations about special needs, but it has not gone much further than that. Or maybe you have never even thought about doing it because it isn't something you yourself learned early on. I am here to tell you it matters. It matters that your kids know that being cruel, or viewing someone with special needs as anything other than valuable, wonderfully made, and worthy, is one of the most important things they will ever learn in life. And this lesson needs to be repeated more than once, because, well, they are kids after-all and may not understand a lesson fully the first time around. This lesson will take them very far indeed and open them up to so many rich relationships, and new experiences. It will help them learn empathy, and they will become wonderful advocates, maybe even for their own children with special needs one day. There are consequences if you choose not to teach them these values. You are responsible for them having the knowledge they need to comfortably and confidently interact with every person they come across who is typical, or not typical. 

Like I said, there are consequences to you not being in charge of this learning experience for them. 

Hey, you. Yes you. The mom who is pointing at my son and laughing while your own daughter looks embarrassed beside you. You moved so quickly past us that we didn't have a chance to tell you how sorry we feel for you. You missed an amazing opportunity to meet a wonderful little boy, and the chance to teach your daughter a very good lesson about diversity (although it seems she may be learning something from your bad behavior alone). I am sorry your caregiver did not teach you these values. I imagine you have grown up being angry about, or fearful of differences, and your life could have felt so much more richer and fuller had someone just taught you better. 

But I forgive you, and countless others after you. I will teach my son forgiveness, too, and his brother, and they will grow up knowing that some people just weren't taught the same values they were, and that evil exists in this world, and they will rise above it. I will read them all sorts of books, like "Special People, Special Ways", or "My Friend Isabelle", "A Rainbow of Friends", or maybe "Views from Our Shoes". I will take the time to research as many books as I can, and pick the ones that will best speak to my kiddos about diversity. Because it is my responsibility to teach them about acceptance, appreciation of differences, love and empathy. I will encourage them to be friendly to kiddos who have special needs. I will make a point to have play dates with parents who have kids with special needs, and find ways to break down barriers so that our kids can have a blast with one another. If they have questions about people with special needs, I will answer them, or better yet, I will get them to interact with people who have special needs and can answer those questions better than I can. And if there ever comes the sad day when my children discriminate against another individual, for whatever difference they possess, right then and there they will be taught that that behavior is unacceptable. That behavior will never be acceptable in this household, and it shouldn't be acceptable in yours either. 

So be a better parent. Teach your children about special needs, don't wait. Don't assume one conversation will do it. Be an active participant in your kiddos tapping into that side of themselves that will make it so posts like this never have to be written again. Your kids are too important, this lesson is too important, for you to ignore it. Your kids deserve the opportunity to be friends with wonderful people like my son. They need to be taught that making fun of him, or people who are not typical, is wrong. They likely won't know this lesson on their own. Help them be comfortable with the differences that they see around them. Not just comfortable with these differences, but to celebrate them. 

This is Isaac. 
He has achondroplasia. That means he is shorter than most people. He has a bit of a larger head. His arms and legs are shorter, but his torso is average size. He can do everything that a typical sized person can do. Sometimes he needs to use a stool. Sometimes he needs a bit of help when he walks, or goes up stairs. But don't assume he can't do most things on his own. In fact, he likes to be independent, and prefers not to be treated younger because of his short stature. Isaac is learning to speak English, so he does not talk a lot, but he understands almost everything you are saying to him. People like Isaac prefer to be called a "little person" or "a person with dwarfism". They do not want to be called "a midget". Isaac is a very happy, loving person. He loves reading books, and watching Paw Patrol. If you say "hello" to him, he might be a bit shy, or he will say "hello" back. If you get to know him better he will likely view you as very dear to him, and want to be your friend. Get to know someone like Isaac. You will be happy that you did. 

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